Goth is Dead, Long Live Goth: Post-Thanksgiving Darkness At Ruin Hollywood
It's barely 11 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, but the modest, early evening crowd inside Koreatown goth party Ruin Hollywood is already congregating on the dance floor. Underneath the chandeliers inside the Monte Cristo, about two dozen people pirouette and snake their way across hardwood as DJ Xian drops Bat for Lashes' Wall of Sound number "What's a Girl to Do?" One woman moves her arms dramatically as she lip-syncs with a euphoric grin. Next to her, a man fans himself and bends backwards as though he is suffering from a case of the vapors. In a corner, a girl happily twirls her full, Lolita skirt and surrounding the floor are small groups of friends giggling and smiling as singer Natasha Khan prepares for heartbreak.
Three decades have passed since, as subculture lore goes, British impresario Tony Wilson referred to post-punk band Joy Division as "gothic" and inadvertently kick-started a scene that relishes in anything and everything dark. Over the ensuing years, authority figures have asked "What's wrong with these kids?" musicians have protested "We're not goth!" and young people have alternately embraced and disavowed the term as passersby ask for directions to the funeral.
One might think that, by now, goth would be buried in the graveyard of dead scenes, after all the originators have long since broken up, reformed and broken up again. But on any given night in Los Angeles, it is likely that you can find at least one goth-friendly party, and weekly clubs like Ruin, which celebrates its first anniversary next Friday, generally bring in crowds of 150 to 450 people, depending on the event.
don't have the same attitude as in a Hollywood club," says one
Ruin regular who wished to be identified only as Ken. "Here
everyone is laid back, everyone is cool. You'll never see a fight
at a goth club."
Ask anyone why they are here and the first answer is most often the music. While the forbearers of the movement still get a good deal of play inside clubs like Ruin, the set list isn't Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sisters of Mercy on repeat. Instead, the music selection is a hodgepodge of old and new pieced together without regard for genre, focusing on mid-tempo rhythms, dramatic breakdowns and an overall somber mood.
"Most of these songs are written in minor keys, they're usually set to a dance beat," says Michael Spain, a San Francisco resident who hits up the L.A. clubs whenever he's in town. He adds that he finds the music makes dancing a bit more interesting than with other kinds of club fare. "You can be more expressive because there are vocals, there's a bit of a story line or something being told by the person singing the song. You can interpret it in many different ways."
Right now, club-goers are running to the dance floor for Ladytron, The Knife, Royksopp, Jem and Bat for Lashes, contemporary musicians who would probably never be labeled as goth. It's a mature play list for a subculture that has long since passed its youthful rebellion phase.
In the latter half of the 1990s, I was spooky enough to DJ at a club called Coven 13. The scene itself was well over a decade old at that point, but still managed to draw large amounts of suburban teenagers like myself who were looking for someplace where we could grow giddy over serious music. By the time I left that world, goth had already hit the cultural zeitgeist (see SNL's "Goth Talk") and felt the backlash following the Columbine murders and other similarly heinous crimes committed by youngsters. I thought then that goth was nearing its end. That was eight years ago.
In the new millennium, the subculture retreated further underground. The post-punk revival came and went while largely ignoring the contributions of this clan. Emo angst and hipster irony dominated the teen scene. The community itself fractured, with the distinction between goth and its sister movement, industrial, growing more pronounced while numerous subgenres sprouted within both realms. Newbies came to the clubs, but the crowd on the whole grew older, with the kids who partied all night at eighteen now in their late-twenties and thirties, balancing careers with their love of the night.
"It's just a great place to be among people who are creative and take in the tableaux of everything," explains Tim Jankowski, a goth club-goer since moving to Los Angeles in 1993, while sipping on a drink from Ruin's absinthe bar.
The fashion has altered only slightly, with Lolita, cyberpunk and steampunk styles influencing outfits that remain eccentric and semi-formal. The music has been updated and, since the legalization of absinthe, the favored cocktails have changed, but the craving to exude happiness on the dance floor while a voice through the PA appears on the verge of tears remains.
Ruin Hollywood, Every Friday @ The Monte Cristo, 3100 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038